Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Agustin F. Umali: A Distinguished Filipino Ichthyologist


Melchor F. Cichon
First Published in Otolith
January-March 1997, p. 16

Mr. Agustin F. Umali is the author of one of the most significant books on Philippine fishes, Edible Fishes of Manila (Manila, Bureau of Printing, 1936). This is the first book on Philippine fishes that provides the local and scientific names, distinctive features, colors, sizes, supply and marketing conditions, eating qualities, and illustrations of Philippine fishes that were sold in the different markets in Manila before World War II. In 1938, he co-authored English and Local Names of Philippine Fishes with Dr. Albert W. Herre. He also authored the classical book on the different fishing gears used in the Philippines, Guide to the Classification of Fishing Gears in the Philippines in 1950.

All these books are still being used by Filipino fisheries and marine researchers and students. Aside from these, Umali published more than 20 scientific articles on Philippine fishes and fisheries mostly in the Philippine Journal of Science.

This is the reason why the University of the Philippines in the Visayas named the Faculty Center of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences as Agustin Umali Hall. This is a fitting tribute to a distinguished man who rendered so much of his time and talent for the development of fisheries in the Philippines.

Umali was born in Odiongan, Romblon on January 15, 1906. His parents were Mariano Umali and Leoncia Fallaria. He finished his Associate in the Arts at the University of the Philippines, where he also earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1928.

After graduation, Umali taught at the Zambales Provincial High School from 1928 to 1929. He then transferred to the Bureau of Science in 1929 where he stayed until 1936 as an Assistant Ichthyologist. From the Bureau of Science, he worked as District Fisheries Officer in Naga, Camarines Sur from 1936 to 1938. In 1939 until the start of World War II, Umali worked as Assistant Ichthyologist at the Division of Fisheries, Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

His service in the government continued even during the war. In 1942-43, he worked as an Aquatic Biologist at the bureau of Forestry and Fishery. He transferred to the Office of the President as Supervisor (Fisheries) Food Administration from 1943 to 1944.

His love for education led him to the Philippine School of Fisheries from 1944-1945, and from 1946-1948, as its Superintendent. From the Philippine School of Fisheries, he transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rehabilitation Office, Manila from 1948 to 1950. He became Chief of the Geology Paleontology Division, National Museum from 1950 until 1960.

In between these jobs, Umali was sent to various trainings here and abroad. In 1938-1939, he was sent by the Philippine government on deep-sea fishing. In the Philippines, he attended a special training on cooperative at the Department of Agriculture and Commerce at the Institute of Public Administration (now the College of Public Administration, University of the Philippines in 1953-54.

It was during his stay in these various government organizations tha he was able to produce a lot of scientific papers, pamphlets and books on Philippine fishes and fisheries. He was also able to attend scientific meetings like the Indo-Pacific Fisheries, 4th Meeting where he served as adviser in 1952. In the following year, he was able to attend the 8th Pacific Science Congress and in 1962, he participated in the UNESCO Marine Science Institutions in East and Southeast Asia meeting in Manila.

Umali was a member of learned societies and organizations like the National research Council of the Philippines and the American Society of Ichthyology and Herpetology. He was the founding fellow of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science.

Because of his significant contributions in the field of fisheries, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Plague by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science in 1961.
All these speak of a man worthy to be honored and remembered by his colleagues in the field of fisheries and even by future generations.